As we mentioned before, unaltered moxa sticks and loose moxa will both produce white, mild smoke. In Asia, moxa smoke is considered an essential therapeutic element of moxibustion. Moxa smoke contains many trace elements, such a iron, zinc, magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium and more, which are considered to be beneficial. The smoke also has calming effects on people’s nervous system. However, in the West, many practitioners and clients prefer to minimise or eliminate this smoke because it is inconvenient, and can bother individuals sensitive to smoke. Smokeless moxa has therefore developed a loyal following in Canadian and American practices, as well as in other clinics across the world: it is better adapted to small, enclosed spaces.
Unsurprisingly, making smokeless moxa rolls involves additional steps in the production process. Smokeless moxa comes from carbonized moxa, which strictly speaking is charcoal mugwort. The carbonization process minimises the burning moxa’s emissions, eliminating around 95% of the moxa smoke. Despite its name, however, smokeless moxa does produce some smoke. The difference between wood and charcoal makes a good analogy: charcoal produces a lot less smoke than raw wood, but it would be inaccurate to say it does not produce any at all.
Carbonisation, then, takes place before moxa sticks are rolled, and it creates a powder that will be packed extremely tightly into paper. The end result can make it difficult to distinguish between high quality and low quality moxa leaves, as the texture, colour and scent are thrown off by the carbonisation process. The quality of the raw ingredient, however, does still make a huge difference whether the moxa is in charcoal form or not, influencing how fast it burns, and ultimately affecting its therapeutic potential.
How to tell good quality smokeless moxa from the bad
Unethical moxa producers have sometimes taken advantage of this difficulty by substituting moxa leaves for branches and stems, or in rare cases, even mixing mugwort with wood charcoal! In these extreme cases, the smokeless moxa sticks can spark and burn the skin. It’s therefore very important to be cautious when purchasing smokeless moxa sticks, and to always test it before using it in treatments. Relying on trusted suppliers is a good way of ensuring quality, but what happens if your regular supplier doesn’t have smokeless moxa, or if you’re away and in a pinch? It’s important to try any product before using it in treatment, but the things you should look for and the ones you should avoid aren’t always obvious. We compiled a list of criteria to help guide your decision.
First, watch out for any residues, and whether moxa powder falls frequently from the stick. Good quality smokeless moxa sticks are solid, and shouldn’t crumble when lightly tapped or knocked. Second, examine the ashes. Good quality smokeless moxa stick ashes are white, tinged with a bit of grey, and as the stick burns, the ashes won’t fall easily. Note that ashes will invariably be black, however, if there isn’t enough oxygen when the moxa burns: to properly assess the ashes’ colour, do not place the moxa stick in a box, ashtray or in any small container that might impede air flow.
Third, watch the smoke. Good quality smokeless moxa should produce very little or even no smoke, with only faint, white or gray-ish plumes, while some poor quality “smokeless” moxa stick will produce more smoke, usually darker in colour. Fourth, assess how the moxa burns. Good quality smokeless moxa won’t exhibit any sparkles, but it also won’t extinguish itself easily. You should need to use a moxa ashtray or extinguisher to put out the moxa stick. To make a useful judgement, however, you have to make sure your moxa stick is completely lit, and ensure that it has enough air flow; otherwise, the stick may extinguish itself sometimes, but it won’t be a good indicator of its quality. All rights reserved for Lierre Blog.